The proteoglycan superfamily now contains more than 30 full-time molecules that fulfill a variety of biological functions. Proteoglycans act as tissue organizers, influence cell growth and the maturation of specialized tissues, play a role as biological filters and modulate growth-factor activities, regulate collagen fibrillogenesis and skin tensile strength, affect tumor cell growth and invasion, and influence corneal transparency and neurite outgrowth. Additional roles, derived from studies of mutant animals, indicate that certain proteoglycans are essential to life whereas others might be redundant. The review focuses on the most recent genetic and molecular biological studies of the matrix proteoglycans, broadly defined as proteoglycans secreted into the pericellular matrix. Special emphasis is placed on the molecular organization of the protein core, the utilization of protein modules, the gene structure and transcriptional control, and the functional roles of the various proteoglycans. When possible, proteoglycans have been grouped into distinct gene families and subfamilies offering a simplified nomenclature based on their protein core design. The structure-function relationship of some paradigmatic proteoglycans is discussed in depth and novel aspects of their biology are examined.